It's hard to believe that a month has almost passed since our sweet Zachary entered our family. The weeks since have been full —very full. We're gearing up for our return to Asia and at the same time, we are trying to soak up the time we have left in the States. We're enjoying the beautiful spring weather, fellowship with our beloved church, celebrating birthdays (seven down, one to go), praying that God will lead our steps in the future, and trying to enjoy a little bit of being instead of just doing. In all our busyness, I have neglected to come and share the story of Zachary's arrival. I know that not everyone likes birth stories and while I do keep in all in good taste, feel free to skip this post. And I'll warn you now, I get wordy with these things!
After being pregnant and giving birth six times, the one thing I can confidently say is that each experience is different. Each pregnancy has its own course, each baby has his/her own way of making an entrance into the world. I've had six children in four different countries and each experience has been unique, even amidst the similarities. This is my story. This is Zachary's story. This is our family's story. It's okay if it is different from yours.
This pregnancy was very difficult. I am thankful for some unexpected blessings in it, including medication to help with 40 weeks of nausea and vomiting, but overall, this was the hardest pregnancy I've had. My body is feeling its age and its history. The last weeks of the pregnancy were taking their toll — not just on me, but also on my precious family who had already shown me much more love, patience, and compassion than could be expected. We were all ready. Ready for pregnancy to be over. Ready for baby. Ready to have mom back.
Given my history of not going into labor on my own (even after my water breaking), Jason and I made the decision that if given the option to induce, we would take it. I've had Pitocin five times and fully expected to have it again. There is always a part of me that longs to wait and see if my body will give in and let go and let baby come on its own, but when weighing the option of waiting with the need to have me (physically, mentally, and emotionally) back with my family, it was an easy decision. If my doctor would induce, we'd do it.
A week before my due date, I talked with one of the midwives at my doctor's office. We discussed my birth history and our unique situation of waiting on visas for returning to Indonesia (you can't get a visa without a passport, no passport without a birth certificate, and no birth certificate without a baby!) After talking through things, she was in favor of inducing on or around my due date if baby didn't decide to come on his own. After a few days I got a call saying that the hospital had space open on March 23rd (the day before my due date). It wasn't an ideal time as my sister and her family were flying in that day, but it was the option we were given.
What I didn't expect was that they would want me to come in Friday night to give me Cervadil, a medication used to prepare the cervix. I was only at 1 cm that week and they were afraid the Pitocin wouldn't be enough to get labor started. I tried to explain that I am never more than one or two centimeters and that Pitocin has always worked. Regardless, they insisted we do the Cervadil first and then they would start the Pitocin in the morning. I knew my body was ready to have the baby (after doing this six times, you just know when you are ready) and I was afraid that the Cervadil would put me into labor and I would be up all night. I was fearful, but it didn't sound like there was another option.
So, on Thursday and Friday we worked on preparing for both the arrival of our baby and the arrival of my sister. I did the shopping for the next two weeks (including Easter basket stuff so that I wouldn't have to think about it the following week) and we got the house ready for visitors. On Friday afternoon we dropped the kids off at Aunt Becky and Uncle Tom's house ("Aunt" Becky is actually my mom's first cousin and we have so enjoyed getting to know them while we have been here in North Carolina). We took one last photo of "five" and then one last photo of us as a family of seven.
Jason and I had a nice dinner together before heading to the hospital. It was calm and relaxing (other than the contractions I had been having for the past few weeks). We arrived at the hospital at 8pm and I waddled (yes, waddled!) to the labor and delivery floor as I commented on how crazy it was to make a pregnant (and contracting) woman walk that far. After a ridiculous amount of paperwork and silly questions, they inserted the Cervadil and we settled in. As we were getting ready to go to sleep, I said something to Jason that really surprised me. I said, "I'm open to the idea of getting an epidural."
Jason was more surprised than I was. I've had two epidurals in the past and disliked both experiences very much. With Caleb, they did it far too early and I felt like I missed his entire labor and delivery. I can't really explain it, but not ever getting to feel my body preparing to deliver a baby made me feel cheated. With Katie, I had an epidural after being told I had many more hours of labor ahead of me. Knowing how much more intense labor gets in the end, I decided to do the epidural. I couldn't imagine hours more of that intensity level of pain. As it turns out, doctors can be wrong and I delivered Katie 20 minutes later — before the epidural provided any relief. WIth my two epidural experiences being so unpleasant, I hadn't even considered having one this time. And so both Jason and I were genuinely surprised to hear me say that I would consider it. I still don't know where the thought came from or why I said it.
We went to bed fairly soon, hoping to at least get some sleep. About three hours later (now 1 am), contractions woke me up. I worked through them, hoping they would fizzle as contractions had on a number of previous nights. However, they continued to come every few minutes and the pain in my back became more and more intense. After delivering four posterior babies before, I wasn't surprised by the back labor, but was still amazed at how much in hurts. For those of you who haven't ever had the pleasure of posterior (face up) babies — only 4-10% of all deliveries — just take my word for it: it hurts. Our bodies are designed to deliver babies head first, face down. When babies position themselves in a different way, it interferes with the birthing process and increases what is already and incredibly painful experience.
Contractions continued throughout the rest of the night and needless to say, I didn't get much sleep. By 5 am (when the nurse had told me they would remove the Cervadil), I was contracting pretty hard and was in a lot of pain. When she finally arrived, she told me that she had debated about removing it earlier as she watched my contractions build in intensity. She was compassionate and offered some hope that once they removed the Cervadil, the contractions should stop and I could shower and have a bit of time before we started the Pitocin.
The contractions did slow down and I started to get ready. However, about 20 minutes later while I was in the shower, the intense blunt pain in my back returned and I struggled to get through my shower. The contractions quickly picked back up to their former intensity and I clutched the counter in the bathroom frequently as I tried to dry my hair and put some makeup on. After a half-hearted attempt at looking presentable, I made it back to my bed. As I sat there for a while waiting for the doctor to arrive for the day, I made the decision that I would get an epidural. I hadn't slept, my labors are notoriously long, and after almost seven hours of intense back labor, I was ready for a bit of calm and rest before delivery.
When the doctor finally arrived, I was thrilled to find out that I had progressed to five centimeters. This may not be a big deal to many people, but I have never made it past two without Pitocin. After seeing my progression, the doctor gave me the surprising news that it looked like we wouldn't need the Pitocin after all. I was thrilled. People always say that Pitocin labors are so much harder, but not having ever experienced labor without Pitocin, I really didn't know the difference. The doctor gave me the option of breaking my water then and letting the labor progress really fast, or waiting to break my water and taking it more slowly. I decided on the latter. I wasn't in a hurry to deliver. I wanted to savor these last hours and joyfully anticipate the arrival of our baby.
After receiving the epidural, I settled in to a peaceful time of waiting. And let me just say, the next few hours were beautiful. It was only after the epidural took effect that I realized how much pain I had been in. Not just in my labor, but in the last month of the pregnancy. Most days brought tears of pain and fatigue and having those lifted was the most amazing feeling in the world. As I laid on my bed, I told Jason, "This is the most comfortable I have been in months. I could stay here forever."
My doctor (who was seriously amazing) came in a few hours later and broke my water. There was some concern since there was meconium in the fluid, but they assured me that although there would be a respiratory team in the room when I delieverd, there wasn't much reason to worry. If he cried right after birth, I would get to hold him right away. If he didn't cry, the NICU team would take him and suction out his lungs and make sure his vitals were stable before giving him to me.
I spent the next few hours savoring the moment. I knew that our baby was coming. I knew that soon, life as we have known it, would be forever changed. I knew in a few short hours our baby boy would be in my arms and I would be a mama to six amazing children (plus the five we never got to meet). I wanted this time to last forever. It was a few of the most joyful and peaceful hours I have ever expereinced. I was able to think, dream, pray, and anticipate what the next hours, days, weeks, and months would bring. I was able to intentionally experience and savor the moments. It's really hard to put into words, but it was the first time I have ever felt fully in charge of my birth experience and fully aware and involved. I know that many people believe that only in giving birth without medication do you fully experience the process. And while there is something amazing about the natural birth experience (remember, I've done four without the benefits of pain relief), there is also something amazing about fully being in the moment mentally and emotionally because your energy isn't all expended physically. I have never felt more fully involved and aware of what was taking place. I was filled with so much joy and anticipation. If I didn't want to hold my baby so much, I would have wanted those hours to last forever.
I continued to progress and my doctor and nurse checked on me occasionally. We heard from the hallway that the only other lady on the floor at the moment was ready to deliver. Over the next 30-45 minutes, it was becoming increasingly clear that my baby would soon be here. Epidurals, while providing amazing pain relief, don't take away all sensations and this being my sixth time delivering, I knew that it was almost time. It was, oddly enough, the most exhilarating experience to be able to feel the baby descending and to know that it was almost time, and yet being comfortable enough that I could actually enjoy it. I knew I would have to call for the doctor soon, but I tried to relax and let the baby make his way while I treasured the minutes. I'm struggling to explain this, but it was just an amazing experience to know — without anyone having to tell me — that it was time. I felt so alive, so in control, so focused on what was happening. With Pitocin labors, there isn't time to savor anything. At the end, contractions come every minute and last for a minute, so they are one on top of another and there is no time to do anything but make it through. At least for me, no Pitocin meant 3-4 minutes between contractions and that meant 3-4 minutes to wait...to pray...to savor.
Finally, I knew that baby wasn't going to wait any longer and I had Jason get the doctor (who had just finished delivering the other baby). I told him it was time and after checking me, he agreed. Ten centimeters and ready to push. The respiratory team was called and everything was in place for baby's arrival. We all assumed this would be a very fast process. We were all wrong. Although I had told the doctor that my back labor for those seven hours confirmed that this baby was going to be another posterior one, he wasn't fully convinced. However, after I started pushing the doctor quickly realized that perhaps I was right. The baby was stuck on the pubic bone and despite my "incredible pushing " (their words, not mine), the baby wasn't making a lot of progress. Coupled with the fact that contractions were still only coming every 3-4 minutes, we had a lot of time. It was odd to be laying there with about ten people in the room and having pleasant conversations between contractions. We had time to talk about our other kids, our deliveries in four different countries, and more. Finally, after about 30 minutes of pushing, baby decided he was ready and I heard those beautiful words, "Yep, he's on his way out with his face staring right up at me."
3:01 p.m. Welcome to the world, Zachary Alexander.
He cried right away so I got to hold him immediately. Jason cut the cord and I got to hold and enjoy my new son. I was so thankful that they didn't take him away. They gave me lots of time to hold him and snuggle him and tell him how happy I was that he was here. I stared at those beautiful chubby cheeks and was in awe that after years of wondering if I would ever get to be a mother, I was now the mother to six children. It was in that moment that the words of Scripture were so alive and beautiful: "Children are a gift from the Lord" (Psalm 127:3). Not a nuisance. Not an inconvenience. Not something to be tolerated. A reward — both when they are chubby and sweet and oh-so-new and when they are two and six and ten and in need of much grace.
I finally agreed to let him go so they could weigh him and clean him up. He surprised us all with a whopping nine pounds on the scale. The nurse even weighed him twice, not believing the scale the first time. He was a more than a pound larger than my largest baby, but all 8 pound 15.8 ounces of him was beautiful and all mine. The nurse bathed him right there in front of me and I so enjoyed getting to watch and be a part of all the little right-after-birth moments.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was filled with good food (courtesy of my sister, not the hospital!), sweet visitors, and 13 people fitting into the tiniest hospital room known to man. It didn't matter, though. What mattered was that our sweet son was finally with us and our room was filled with lots of smiles and lots of love.
I am so blessed. It's hard not to go back to the night in February of my freshman year of college when I was ready to take my life. As I sat there, pondering what I thought might be the last hours of my life, I had to make a decision. And it was my dream of having a family one day that made the decision for me. I dreamed of having children and raising them and making them feel treasured, valued, special, and unconditionally and unwaveringly loved. That night, I made a decision that would change everything. Eighteen years later, I smiled as I knew without a doubt that I was living that dream. Life is hard. Life is painful. Life is filled with questions and worries and wounds so deep that there are no words to explain them. I am often overcome with grief, fear, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy. But as I sat and held my newborn son and reminded myself of the blessing and high calling that mothering is, I reconfirmed that February night decision to devote my life to loving and raising these little ones. I don't do it perfectly, but I do it with mercies that are new every morning and with grace that abounds.